Explainer | The Carmel Chircop murder and the Maksar brothers arrest

How is information from Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, on the Carmel Chircop murder, linked to the arrests of the Agius brothers? MaltaToday maps out the links

Lawyer Carmel Chircop (left) was murdered in 2015 and now Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, (top right) has been given a presidential pardon to spill the beans on the assassination. A year before his murder, Chircop had loaned money to a group of investors involved in More Supermarkets, including Adrian Agius (bottom right)
Lawyer Carmel Chircop (left) was murdered in 2015 and now Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, (top right) has been given a presidential pardon to spill the beans on the assassination. A year before his murder, Chircop had loaned money to a group of investors involved in More Supermarkets, including Adrian Agius (bottom right)

In a dramatic twist to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case, Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, changed his plea and admitted guilt.

Muscat’s decision was reached after a plea bargain that saw him settle for a 15-year jail term. He was one of three men accused of executing the assassination in October 2017.

However, his guilty plea on Tuesday 23 February could have wide ramifications on police investigations, not only in the Caruana Galizia case but also other murder cases of the past years.

Muscat’s admission set in motion a chain of events, including the arrests of Żebbuġ brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, and their associate Jamie Vella.

Muscat was also given a presidential pardon to tell all on the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in Birkirkara six years ago.

MaltaToday maps out the links between the Agius’s and Chircop.

Who was Carmel Chircop?

Chircop, 51, was a lawyer who was found dead in a Birkirkara multi-storey garage in 2015, after being shot four times. He was killed in the morning of 8 October 2015 as he walked to the Birkirkara garage complex, where he died from four gunshot wounds to his upper body. Since then, little has been disclosed on the ongoing investigations into the murder of a lawyer who enjoyed extensive community bonds and other business relationships.

What is the significance of the Carmel Chircop murder?

It turns out he had been one of the ‘investors’ in the mysterious More Supermarkets bust, the one that saw Ryan Schembri, a cousin of former PM chief of staff Keith Schembri, flee the island.

Chircop had loaned a substantial sum to people connected to the More Supermarkets, where millions are said to have been lost after director and owner Ryan Schembri fled the island. In March 2014, Chircop entered into a contract with Ryan Schembri, then appearing as director of the company Erom Limited, to loan him the sum of €750,000.

Also appearing as debtors in the contract were Schembri’s business partner Etienne Cassar, as well as Adrian Agius - one of the men first arrested by police in December 2017 in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and later released on police bail. Together, Schembri and Cassar, and Agius, owned shares in another joint company called Interaa Holdings.

What happened to the money Chircop loaned?

According to their contract, Chircop agreed to loan the three businessmen, €750,000 interest-free. Indeed, the contract suggests that the loan had already taken place, since a €50,000 repayment took place on the day of the contract itself, while a further payment was expected by the end of the month on 31 March, 2014, and a further €50,000 to be paid by 30 April 2014. A final payment of €600,000 had to be paid by not later than 15 February, 2015 – less than a year later. The contract, however, bound the creditors to repay the entire sum within seven days of being notified by Chircop of any default in payment terms.

How does Adrian Agius factor in this story?

Agius, known as ‘tal-Maksar’, was the director linked to the More Hamrun supermarket. Agius held a directorship in a company related to More’s main shareholder Ryan Schembri, Interaa Holdings, with the shareholders being made up of Schembri’s own Cassar & Schembri Marketing (40%), M&R Construction (15%) and Panelix Supplies (25%), and Agius’s Imora Holdings (20%).

Ryan Schembri packed his bags and absconded from Malta after the supermarket business he ran failed. He left behind him a string of debts. Schembri is cousin to former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Ryan Schembri packed his bags and absconded from Malta after the supermarket business he ran failed. He left behind him a string of debts. Schembri is cousin to former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Was Chircop’s money paid back?

At law the debt was recognised: Cassar & Schembri Marketing, the company Schembri used to supply foods to the supermarket chain, issued two loan notes to Chircop. But Adrian Agius was the guarantor on the debt, presenting as a special hypothec his grand villa property on Engineer Street, Madliena heights. Chircop exempted the notary, Malcolm Mangion, from carrying out the usual searches on the title and the property guarantee.

However, Ryan Schembri fled the island in September 2014, soon after starting to transferr his supermarket business to a new investor, the restaurateur Darren Casha, who was then under the impression that the More Supermarkets chain was in excellent financial health.

What happened after Chircop was killed?

Chircop was killed in October 2015 - it does not appear he was paid his money, because six months after the murder Adrian Agius took recourse to the law courts in a bid to cancel the notarial deed that had locked in his property as guarantee for the €750,000 debt. However, Chircop’s widow first refused the claim, insisting that Agius himself had informed Chircop “to take his villa in Madliena as repayment for the loan to Erom. If what he now claims is true, [Agius] would have not put the villa up… the business that was to take place with Carmel Chircop never did happen because the agreement was that either Erom or the loan guarantor, pay back the money loaned to them.”

Yet neither party ever made it to court to take a stand on the alleged claim. Indeed, in September 2017 the house Agius put up as a guarantee was sold for €1.8 million. The notary was the same person who set out the deed for Chircop’s loan.

Soon after, following various deferments, Agius’s lawyer Arthur Azzopardi told the court in January 2018 that Agius was renouncing the case after an out-of-court settlement with the Chircop heirs.

Who are the Agius brothers?

When the Caruana Galizia assassination suspects were arrested back in December 2017, police also arrested seven other men: two of them were Adrian and Robert Agius, sons of murdered car dealer Raymond Agius ‘tal-Maskar’, shot dead in 2008 in the Butterfly Bar of Birkirkara. His killers were never apprehended. The Agiuses were later released, while three men – George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat – were charged with the murder.

In his testimony in court, the assassination’s middleman turned State’s evidence Melvin Theuma, alleged in court that someone by the nickname of ‘Maksar’ had procured the bomb that was used by the executors of the Caruana Galizia assassination. The name was never stated in court.

Agius had earned a mention on Caruana Galizia’s blog when she mentioned him three times in one day – 12 October 2014. The story of the day was news of the More Supermarkets bust that left an alleged €40 million in debts after its prime mover Ryan Schembri ran away from the island.

Caruana Galizia had alleged that Agius was taking loans from businessmen wanting to avoid tax, and promised interest of 20% on alleged shipments of “meat from Brazil” – her quotation marks indicating a heightened sense of scepticism.

Terence Gialanze disappeared without trace in 2012 shortly after transferring his shareholding in a company to Adrian Agius
Terence Gialanze disappeared without trace in 2012 shortly after transferring his shareholding in a company to Adrian Agius

What other associations do they have?

Caruana Galizia did place Agius as a friend and close associate of alleged drug dealer Terence Gialanze, who vanished in November 2012 at the age of 24, and is now presumed dead.

MaltaToday has since established that Gialanze had been in business with Agius and his brother Robert, and that four weeks before disappearing, he had disposed of his shares in the company.

Company documents show that Gialanze set up Globe International Enterprises Ltd with the Agius brothers in 2009 to import and export beverages, detergents, cosmetics, toiletries, sanitaryware and food. Shareholding was split equally between the three men. However, on 2 November 2012, company records show that Gialanze transferred his shareholding (2,000 shares) to Imora Holdings Ltd, belonging to Adrian Agius.

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